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Hidden Communication

By Lia Yereslove Feb. 15, 2023

Exchanging an inside joke scrawled in invisible ink with a best friend, completing hard level word scrambles for fun, translating the Fantasian alphabet in Geronimo Stilton’s Kingdom of Fantasy series and decoding cryptograms in the Gravity Falls end credits to get a highly-anticipated next-episode sneak peek. Growing up, kids are exposed to countless forms of secret communication that have practical, real-world applications—such as protecting company data from cyber attacks or ensuring private correspondence between military or government organizations.


During World War II, both the Allied and Axis powers transmitted crucial commercial, diplomatic and military information using advanced cipher devices that encrypted messages using an electrical current passed through spinning wheels. However, while the German Enigma machine featured three rotors, the United States’ SIGABA included 15 rotors, making it far less susceptible to cryptologists, or expert codebreakers that analyze data and patterns to decipher secret communication. This difference proved to be consequential for the Allies. According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in the 1930s, Polish cryptologists figured out how to replicate the German Enigma machine and decipher their secret codes. By 1942, the Allies were reading 4,000 Enigma intercepts per day, which proved useful in circumventing German U-boat raids on supply convoys.


“It was a textbook example of military intelligence done right and of the impacts of revolutions in cryptography. It is likely the first major example of what modern Signals Intelligence work looks like.” Senior Andrew Konstant said.

In addition to its military usage, secret communication—and our ability to decode it—has also been a means for humanity to uncover the past. After embarking on a year-long project of deciphering archival documents listed as “Italian texts” in France’s national library, an amateur group of codebreakers made the startling discovery that they were coded letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was imprisoned. In The New York Times, Israeli computer scientist George Lasry, one of the codebreakers, explained that the process of decoding the 50,000 words written in the letters was painstakingly complex as her cipher was composed of 200 symbols representing names, letters and numbers. The group’s findings were released on Feb. 8, providing historians with a deeper understanding of earlier ciphering techniques and Mary’s own preoccupations.


Furthermore, cryptography plays a salient role in cybersecurity, protecting home addresses, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. According to The Washington Post, as states began passing near or total bans on abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, a Nebraska mom and her teen daughter, who had received an abortion procedure, faced criminal charges—supported by data from private Messenger conversations that Meta had willingly turned over to prosecutors. Protecting unwanted agencies from accessing is difficult, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk. Users can chat through messaging apps with end-to-end encryption such as iMessage or Signal, which encrypts the message on the sender’s side and decrypts it once it reaches the receiver.


“With daily use of technology, much of our important personal data exists on online databases. If individuals with malicious intent get ahold of it, it could result in the loss of a lot of money, privacy and personal identity. Encryption adds an extra layer of protection and assurance for users, so it is critical that more of our personal and company data is secured,” Senior Amanda Bui said.

Another prominent type of hidden communication utilized within cyberspace is steganography, which involves concealing information within an innocuous cover medium, such as an image, audio or text file. While cryptography focuses on concealing the contents of a message, steganography concerns the practice of hiding that the message itself is being sent. While steganography has positive applications, it is more often used by hackers to send ransomware. Information technology certification provider CompTIA provides an example: Attackers can embed scripts within Word documents and upon it, the user inadvertently activates the script. This then prompts the installation of an app that will download malware from the Internet, quickly compromising the user’s computer.


Whether it is in military, cyber security, or a different sphere, secret communication plays an indispensable, ever-changing role in this complex world. In this age of widespread online surveillance, where user privacy is frequently infringed upon, greater focus may be placed on expanding and improving methods of hidden communication to ensure greater security.

Harry Kang Art

 

About the Contributors

Lia Yereslove

staff writer



Lia Yereslove is a junior at Leland High school and proud to be one. She is a new staff writer on the Leland Charger Account and cannot wait for readers to see what this incredible newspaper has in store. Outside of Journalism, she enjoys hanging with her friends, her dog, listening and playing music, as well as traveling the world. And, of course, writing about it.



Harry Kang

artist



Harry Kang is a sophomore at Leland High School currently working as an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, Harry likes to listen to Frank Ocean and procrastinate on school work. Occasionally he breathes oxygen and sometimes consumes H2O.

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1 Comment


Inseo Kim
Inseo Kim
Apr 17, 2023

sheesh this is some quality art

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